A Roast Chicken Lunch

...on a curiously hot spring day.

As you know, I buy one organic chicken a month. I am on a never-ending quest to find the perfect way to roast the faithful hen and I think I may have found it. I had previously thought that the secret lay in cooking the chicken bosom side down so all the juices flood straight into the part that can be driest. That was before I read the Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers. You will recall that I have taken to her ‘salt meat at least 24 hours before you cook it’ mantra with all the fervour of a fully paid up cult member. The results that I have had have just been too good to think that her ideas are mere bunkum. It really does work.
Now, I’m not talking about submerging meat in liquid brine, simply rubbing the meat with salt (the amount is roughly ¾ teaspoon per 1 lb meat), pepper and perhaps some herbs for extra flavour, and leaving it, covered, in the fridge for a minimum of 24 hours. Your meat will then be tender and flavoursome. With chicken or turkey, it would seem especially important to brine the meat to infuse it with that all important flavour and moistness that it seems to sometimes lack (particularly if your bird is not of great provenance).
But, enough proselytising about the brining. Back to the chicken in question. Despite the temperature being well in the 20s (that’s centigrade), I still wanted a roast chicken for lunch on Saturday. I suppose the child in me that has never quite grown up still remembers the days when roasting a chicken was a special occasion, so expensive was it. Like myself, my mum would always roast the chicken in a slightly different way: using a ‘tent’ of foil to cover it, smearing it with margarine (butter was frowned upon in those days) on the skin and under the skin, cooking it belly side up, belly side down. It would seem that lovers of the roast chicken are looking for the holy grail of roasting, the one chicken prepared in such a way that it tastes so sublime that you would die happy just to smell it.
I think I have gotten close but until I try a truly organic, fresh chicken, I think that day is still someway off for me.
In the meantime, I have my brining techniques.
The chicken for this particular recipe, Roast Chicken and Bread Salad, is roasted slightly differently to your average chicken. After its time spent in the salt, the chicken is rubbed completely dry and roasted for no more than an hour at the highest setting your oven will go (mine was 230c). The skin blisters and bronzes but the meat beneath remains brilliant white and incredibly moist.
I had reservations that it was going to be stringy and tough but as soon as Paul started to carve it, I could see that these fears were unnecessary.
The salad itself was the perfect choice for a warm spring day. Warm roast chicken tossed with olive-oil brushed bread that has been lightly toasted, a slightly tart wine vinegar dressing and some soft salad leaves. Most fortuitous, for me at least, was the surfeit of raggedy chicken leftovers so make stock with.
For dessert I wanted to celebrate the warm days so it was out with the rich chocolate puds and in with a light fruity dish, pinched from the ever-reliable Nigel Slater. Plums de-stoned and halved, the pink cavities filled with whole raspberries and then each half is smeared with a generous spoonful of creamy mascarpone cheese, gently scented with vanilla extract. This luscious dessert is then sprinkled with demerara sugar and put under a hot grill under golden and bubbling.
What is most wonderful is, depending on what time of year it is you can alter the fruits (i.e. peaches, poaches pears) and the filling (blackberries, blueberries, ground almonds or a whole ball of marzipan) to suit what is in season or to suit your palate. And it only takes 2 minutes to make! The perfect ending.


MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Good golly my feet are cold. You've blown my socks off! That is a fabulous plum dessert! I'm with you on the chicken.

pom d'api said...

Waou! I love yours desserts, I look like it's fabulous

joey said...

I know what you mean by the never-ending search for the perfect roast chicken! Thanks for all the brining tips :)

That dessert looks smashing! :)

annauk said...

My maternal Grandmother always, always, always salts her chicken, and it's always delicious!

Well done!

Shaun said...

Freya, love - The approach to roast chicken is really what "made" Judy Rodgers. I saw her re-released "The Zuni Cookbook" at the weekend and flipped through it hungrily. I didn't buy it because I didn't want one more heavy text to cart back to New Zealand (for the moment, anyway), but it seems she can do no wrong. What other recipes of hers would you like to try? The photo turned out great; your chicken looks very moist and delectable.

Patricia Scarpin said...

Freya, this dessert really caught my eye. It looks beautiful and I'm dreaming of the marzipan version!

deinin said...

That is a different way to roast chicken, and it looks so succulent! I shall have to try it out.

(I'm not actually looking for The Perfect Roast Chicken, just as many fabulous ones as I can find!)

gilly said...

Hi Freya! I actually have the Zuni Cafe Cookbook in the coming in the mail to me as we speak! I'm getting even more excited for it's arrival now!
And your dessert looks gorgeous - and easy to make! I love plums!

Joyce said...

I remember Jacques Pepin saying in his memoir, The Apprentice, that the best chicken was one that had only recently been running in the yard and cooked quickly in a very, very hot oven - I seem to remember something about "a lot of butter", too! Ah, fresh and simple win again. Dessert looks divine.

Kathryn said...

Mmm, the chicken looks delish! The world always looks better after a roast chicken.

And the plums look pretty good too - perfect spring fare!

Kathryn x

Cheryl said...

That is one mouth watering picture of the chicken salad. That chicken looks perfect, and the skin, oh the skin, my favorite part. I am so hungry now.

Kelly-Jane said...

It doesn't get better than roast chicken, and yummy pudding too, mmm perfect.


Katie said...

The only thing that gets me away from chocolate is berries....and, maybe stone fruit.
What a wonderful combination! (and I like the easy part)
I hope you had your lovely chicken salad sitting outside with a glass of chilled rose on such a lovely day! It was beautiful here, as well!

Quellia said...

Your chicken looks great! Makes me glad our dinner is ready because looking at it, I'm getting hungry!

Callipygia said...

Wow the whole dinner has me salivating- I especially like the marzipan ball in the peach socket. And my brother had a perfect roast chicken that always had me giggling because he rubbed it with "secret hobo spices"... I have been waiting to blog about that one!

Sig said...

Thanks for the salt rub tip for chicken... I never roast chicken since it always comes out so dry!

The dessert looks awesome as usual! What a great combo!

Chubbypanda said...

Heh. Posts from the same weekend! We're roast chicken buddies!